Brigade Commander: As Iraq Progresses, Now No Time for U.S. to Leave
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Army Col. James "Red" Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, spoke by videoconference from Logistics Support Area Anaconda, near Balad.
Brown said he's seen steady signs of progress during his brigade's 11 months in Iraq. During that time, 3,500 members of the "Thunderbolt Brigade" have conducted 7,000 combat logistics patrols, escorting more than 150,000 logistics vehicles over 1.3 million miles in southern, central and western Iraq.
It's a dangerous job that's cost six brigade members their lives and left 58 wounded in hostile action, said Brown, who's covered 33,000 miles himself.
Brigade members have encountered 330 improvised explosive devices and found numerous weapons caches and several tons of unexploded ordnance, he said. They also were involved in more than 250 small-arms engagements.
The 56th BCT has witnessed more IEDs in recent months, Brown said. But he emphasized that it's because the brigade's mission expanded from the relatively quiet south to more contentious areas of the country, including the Sunni triangle and the west, he said. Also, the spikes encountered just before the elections and referendum have dropped, he said.
Except in western Iraq, roadside-bomb incidents are down, he said. "In the normal routes that we travel, we have seen a dramatic drop since the election in the number of IEDs that we have encountered," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt that this country is more secure."
Brown said he's witnessed tremendous signs of progress during his time in Iraq - much of it from the front seat of a Humvee, crisscrossing the country during nighttime missions that typically run 12 to 14 hours.
These signs are evident in big developments, such as the successful Iraqi elections, to ongoing efforts, such as the standup of more Iraqi security forces, which now number more than 200,000, he said.
But progress also is evident in trends that might go unnoticed by many, he said. Unescorted commercial traffic - which in turn, is boosting the Iraqi economy - has increased dramatically since the brigade arrived in Iraq in early January, the colonel noted.
"There are significant changes in the country," Brown said. "We have been part of two critical pieces of the history of this nation," pointing to the seating of the Transitional National Assembly and passage of the new Iraqi constitution.
Brown cited two particularly significant aspects of those elections: that 64 percent of the population voted, and that Iraqi security forces played a key role in making those elections possible.
"We've seen the Iraqis take the front seat as far as their country is concerned (and) a tremendous success (in) the recent elections, where the security forces took the lead in securing those polling sites," he said. "So without a doubt, we've seen history in the 11 months that we've been here in this country."
The brigade is slated to turn its mission over to the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade Nov. 20, returning to its headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas, in mid-December.
Meanwhile, as progress continues and Iraq's new democracy begins to take shape, Brown said now is no time for the United States to cut its mission short.
"Physically here on the ground, our job is not done," he said. "We have to finish the job that we began here. It is important for the security of this nation. It is important for the security of this region, and certainly it is important for the vital interest of the United States of America."
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